Since we moved here, nearly exactly 16 years ago, we’ve always had Last Chores. Dogs to be walked, horses to be fed. Chickens to count and close in. Stars to marvel at, comets to spot, an unfamiliar sound to pause against. An open-air bracket at the end of the day, before we climbed stairs and shoved children to where they needed to be. Before we slept.
(Our first night here, we must have walked dogs down our new dirt road and remarked that just two nights ago we were walking under Georgian skies and now, here, we had New Hampshire skies, and weren’t we lucky. We must have, though I don’t remember it.)
And no, this is not always what we want to do at 10 in the evening after a long day of child-minding and fiddling with computers or manuscripts. There were nights, I won’t lie, when M and I looked at each other with deliberate exhaustion, both of us pleading with our eyes: “Will you do it?”
Last chores. I have walked dogs while feverish, in labor, during marital skirmishes, while babies wailed for me at the top of the stairs. There have always been dogs who needed walks.
And during those couple months after Tupelo died and before the greyhounds came to stay, eight years ago when we were briefly dogless, there were horses, which brought me out just as regular in the late evening hours to check their water, feed them hay, watch the sky for a moment, and listen to their industrious breath.
(The first night we had horses here, Carly and Bay, we were woken by worry for them as if they were newborns, and were treated to a meteor shower for our middle-of-the-night pains. If I believed in signs, I’d believe that was a sign, that animals would bring us good things, even when they were work.)
The horses are gone. Carly, our last, died one year ago today. The day before L’s birthday. Poor L. He is such a sunny kid and yet, twice now, we’ve been brought to grief right before we try to celebrate his arrival.
Our last dog, Pope, died today.He was just too old and this was the best thing we could do. Tomorrow I’ll make a cake that is both chocolate and vanilla and we’ll have choose-your-own-burritos for dinner because that’s L’s choice, and we’ll toss bits of bread and meat to the floor with the expectation that a Pope will arrive and lap them up, because that was his job. Except… later, I’ll have to sweep.
And there will be no last chores. No last walk. We’ll be tired, yes, but we’ll be sad that nothing needs us to guide them outside one last time.
The soul of our house is a dog’s soul. We’ll miss you, Pope. Traveling mercies.